Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chapter 4: Why Homosexuals Can Reproduce

Chapter 4: Why Homosexuals Can Reproduce

This chapter builds an apropos bridge between preceding scientific chapters and succeeding same-sex marriage chapters.  Because it is an edited dialogue excerpt that rebuts a common anti-SSM argument, this chapter could have been placed inside chapter 6 (which contains almost exclusively edited dialogues rebutting common anti-SSM arguments).  I chose to make it a separate chapter for two reasons: 1) the idea is novel and eyebrow-raising to most, and 2) the concept is especially significant.

Interlocutor 1:  “As to your refuting the claim that homosexual couples can't have children: I would say that you refuted the claim that a homosexual individual can't have children, because you said he or she can reproduce through a third party. This does not refute the claim, however, that two homosexual individuals cannot reproduce together. Homosexual couples can raise children (one of my dearest friends was adopted and raised by two women), but they cannot bear children without a third party. And necessarily - in every case - bringing in a third party for homosexual couples differentiates these couples from heterosexual unions that don't inherently necessitate a third party. ("Inherently" is the operative word.) There is a difference between reproducing with your partner and reproducing via a third party.

Interlocutor 2:  “The take home message is, any given heterosexual couple (in the aggregate) can *potentially* procreate independently. There is NO potential for ANY homosexual couple to procreate independently/naturally (that 3rd party and all the tech would be needed). Therefore, I think we can argue that a procreation-based definition of marriage can still be supported, since natural procreation can only occur in a heterosexual couple.

My response: I think you're misunderstanding four of my scenarios- which is understandable, they're not exactly Biology 100. Four of the scenarios I've noted require NO third party. Also, I did not argue that heterosexuals as a rule cannot reproduce without a third party. Rather, I argued that a subset of them are just as inherently infertile as homosexual couples and thus merit exclusion as much as the class of couples that are same-sex on a *potential* to reproduce basis. Also: You make a claim about "natural procreation"- moral claims from nature are usually flawed[i].

I "reproduce" my edited arguments here- I realize they're a bit complex, but I think they'll make sense if carefully analyzed, and it's the best way I can think of to address your specific questions:
Interlocutor: “I don’t see the logic in your contention about homosexuals not being able to reproduce together. 

What is your definition of “reproducing together”?  Since you can’t respond here I will posit what seems a reasonable dictionary definition: “the process of generating new individuals of the same kind from the parents.”  The mechanism of inheritance in sexually reproducing species (and indeed all cellular life) like ours is DNA.  Take a gay couple- the men mix their sperm, fertilize a donated egg, and have a charitable female friend act as surrogate.  Or we could look to a lesbian couple.  Is not a DNA contribution by both partners (throw in gestation by one of the parents too if you want) sufficient to make them biological parents? Picture partner A of a lesbian couple replacing the nucleus of partner B’s oocyte with her own fertilized nucleus, then either partner gestates the child.  The resulting offspring will be genetically related to both lesbian parents.  The biology here is inescapable[ii].

You’ve also lost me on the third party discussion. If your standard is that bringing in a third party “differentiates these couples from heterosexual unions” and that “there is a difference between reproducing via a third party,” I will make two embryologic counters, each in the alternative, followed by a normative argument.  Though these ideas are original, I have little doubt others have articulated them before me.

First counter: Will the usefulness of inherent reliance on a third party as a discriminator fail when the technology advances sufficiently to enable homosexual couples to be the two and only two biological parents of a child?

Scenario 1: For instance, all the instructions necessary to create a human egg are contained in each somatic cell of an adult male (because males are the heterogametic sex, and because the second X of chromosome 23 in females is lyonized into an unused Barr body, in follows that all the genes needed for oogenesis are necessarily in adult male diploid cells). Given the proper hormone/nutrient/transcription factor cocktail, totipotent cells (which as the name implies can become any of the several hundred distinct types of human cells) harvested from gay partner A could be stimulated to become eggs. The sperm of partner B could fertilize the eggs from partner A. (Interesting sidenote-  children reproduced in this way would be on average about 66% male and 33% female, while the counter situation [Scenario 2] in lesbians would likely require added proteins [chromosome Y gene products], and could only produce girls).  The embryo could then be implanted in a surrogate or, if you think gestation contributes to biological parentage, avoid the third parent by placing the embryo in an artificial womb to gestate.   [Though the device is not yet fully operational, much as the Death Star, many of its constituents are already employed. Three examples: 1) extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a functioning technique and a component of an artificial womb currently used within neonatal intensive care units for very premature infants; 2) dialysis techniques, which could remove waste products generated during gestation; and 3) lactated Ringer's solution, which can be used to replace amniotic fluid]. The feat of producing a mouse with two and only two same-sex parents was accomplished in December 2010 (about three months after I first began advancing this argument - see “My Mouse has Two Daddies[iii]”). 

Scenario 3: Fuse two sperm (one from each partner), then place the resulting diploid nucleus into an enucleated totipotent stem cell from one of the men- voilĂ . 

Scenario 4: the nucleus of lesbian partner A's gamete could be fused to that of partner B's, the resulting oocyte persuaded that fertilization had occurred, and the zygote implanted in either partner.  Bottom line in all three scenarios? A child with two and only two biological parents of the same sex.
In the face of these biological possibilities, is not the natural possession of all the inheritable material necessary for procreation sufficient to conclude that homosexual couples are inherently capable of reproducing together? Given that the gap between the current situation and the scenario I’ve described is purely technical, is there some articulable reason to wait for that technology to actualize before concluding that homosexual couples possess just as fully as heterosexual couples the essential inherent elements (i.e. the DNA) needed to reproduce together?

Second counter: If my argument that homosexual couples are inherently capable of two and only two parent biological reproduction fails for some reason, I argue in the alternative that to be fair, the standard of inherent reliance on third parties to reproduce must also be applied to infertile heterosexual couples who inherently rely on third parties. You noted that the operative word is "inherently." I would ask for your definition of inherent, which would engender testability. Since you can't respond right now I will again quote a dictionary: "Existing as an essential constituent or characteristic; intrinsic." The most essential biological intrinsic constituent existing that we know of is DNA. For at least some subset of infertile couples the cause of infertility is an inherited genetic condition (such as two recessive alleles which when combined inhibit meiosis). Because these couples/individuals' third-party reliance was DNA-inher-ited, that reliance is inher-ent. For at the very least that subset of infertile couples whose infertility is inherent they fail to survive your standard. Assuming that my interpretation of "inherent" is reasonable, you must either 1) abandon the reproductive reliance on a third party as a discriminator or 2) abandon the claim of being fair in applying the standard unless you would also exclude this class of heterosexual couples.

Normative argument: Irrespective of the success of counter 1 or 2, I question the purpose of endeavoring to find reproductive differences on which to pin exclusion of access to marriage. Marriage traditionally is not strictly tied to reproduction. Parties that have undergone a hysterectomy or vasectomy, elderly people incapable of reproduction (I'd point out this infertility is also inherent, as we inherit senescence genetically), emasculated individuals, etc. are all permitted to marry. Thus, excluding homosexual people from the institution must be done on some other basis than reproductive capacity to avoid a conclusion of caprice.  Said the moderator of a January 2011 debate on SSM on the website of The Economist:
Ms. Gallagher narrows eligibility for marriage to couples whose sexual acts are "freighted with the possibility" of producing a child. Gay couples (and sterile men and women, apparently) do not qualify. Her justification is her concern that gay marriage will lead to the further fragmentation of sex, reproduction and marriage. This is an interesting argument, though it burdens gay marriage with a trend that is well under way. After all, out-of-wedlock births have been on the rise in the West for three decades, with no correlation to the legalisation of gay marriage. If you share Ms. Gallagher's concerns, it would seem much more radical solutions are in order.[iv]’"

Interlocutor: “Again, the take home message is this: If I select a heterosexual couple at random, there is a statistical possibility that they can procreate naturally (without the 3rd party, or test-tubes, etc). If natural procreation is part of the definition of marriage, then all heterosexual couples (regardless of fertility - and leaving out all incest and things of the like) should be allowed to be married because of that statistical possibility. In other words, that group is all in without prejudice.
(---You may argue, "but what about the old people?" Sure, if you select randomly from a set of 100+ year old heterosexual couples, they may too have zero statistical potential for procreation. But that group is so small, that it is ridiculous to consider them as their own entire category due to sample size. Thus, they'd be included in the set of all hetero couples.---)

My response:  First, are you sure of your numbers?  Is the set of couples characterized by {too-old-to-reproduce + sterile} larger than the set of homosexual couples?  Second, if you zoom out and cover your eyes, sure you can say that there's a statistical possibility that a random heterosexual couple can reproduce. If you'll zoom out, though, given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, you could just as easily zoom out one more blip, lump in the homosexual couples, and by the same standard a random couple (including homosexual couples) would have the possibility of reproducing naturally. What is your zoom level standard, and what is the justification for its placement where you put it rather than closer in or farther out?
If you open your eyes, on the other hand, you can look and see whether an inherently infertile couple, an inherently fertile couple, or a homosexual couple stands before you. If you'll look closely enough to distinguish classes, then you'll see the homosexual class of couples and the inherently infertile class of couples- in which instance it's unfair to exclude class 1 but not class 2 on an inherently infertile basis.

As to the old people argument, would you then permit homosexuals to marry as long as only a few of them requested it? It sounds like the new device created to exclude homosexuals, since the capacity to reproduce discriminator has failed, operates because there are too many of them that want the exception. If more and more people undergo vasectomies and hysterectomies or wait until they're postmenopausal to marry, or there's a boom in gerontology ward weddings, will you then begin to exclude them from marriage as well? What's your threshold percentage? Or is it an absolute number? What is the justification for placing it where you do rather than higher or lower? The size of the exception is a candidate discriminator, but a weird one- perhaps I should applaud the creativity:

“There are at least as many sterile heterosexual couples in America as homosexual ones, and every one of them is allowed to marry.  If the possibility of procreation is what gives meaning to marriage, then a postmenopausal woman who applies for a marriage license should be turned away at the courthouse door.  What’s more, she should be hooted at and condemned for breaking the crucial link between marriage and procreation, for stretching the meaning of marriage beyond all recognition, and for reducing the institution to frivolity.[v]
Interlocutor:  “What would you think about an exception crafted in this way: Any two individuals who have a presumed natural ability to procreate may marry. Where ‘presumed natural ability’ is defined as ‘compatible reproductive organs--one male; one female.’"

My response:  Compatible reproductive organs (I presume that means X genital fits into Y genital) are insufficient and unnecessary to procreate- as evidenced by those inherently infertile couples who successfully copulate without conceiving on the one hand, and procreate without sex via in vitro fertilization on the other.  It is not the union of penis and vagina, but egg and sperm, which is typically necessary to reproduction. Plus, you have chosen a male-leaning denominator for your exclusion, as the ratio of male:female orgasms resulting from penis-vagina unions is much greater than one (the female biological analog to the male penis is the clitoris, not the vagina).  Indeed, the percentage of penis/vagina unions that produce children is quite small, suggesting other purposes and effects:

“We are taught that the reason for the differences, and the use to which the sex organs are put, has to do with making babies.  This is a lie.  In our society only occasionally are these organs used to make babies.  Much more often they are used to produce sexual pleasure for men…[vi]

Additionally, it is quite a departure from your children-based argument to seek to reduce marriage access to whether one has a penis or a vagina.  What about persons who undergo a sex change?  Individuals who have lost their genitals, such as a man whose penis and testicles were severed in a work accident or a woman whose uterus and vagina failed to develop properly or at all?  Your marriage standard would clearly exclude them.  Additionally, the modern view of mate selection turns primarily on the complementarity of individuals rather than their body parts, and as the divorce rate evidences, “many male-female couples turn out not to be very complementary at all[vii]” despite possessing the “right” equipment. 

As to the use of a "presumed natural ability," a baseless presumption does function as a discriminator but is also accurately described as arbitrary and capricious. Similar to the baseless presumption that black people are inferior to white people, what matters is whether class A is inferior to class B, not whether class A is presumed to be inferior to class B. As I've shown, there is no significant difference between inherently infertile homosexual and heterosexual couples as to their capacity to reproduce. In any case, what is the basis for concluding reproduction method G is superior to method H?  Who is authorized to say that modern medicine and third parties cheapen the reproductive process? To close:

“Their real position is that the possibility of procreation defines marriage when homosexuals are involved, but not when heterosexuals are involved.  To put the point more starkly, sterility disqualifies all homosexuals from marriage, but it disqualifies no heterosexuals.  So the distinction is not pro-procreation (much less pro-children) at all.  It is merely antihomosexual.[viii]

I close with the view of a prominent LDS feminist, Valerie Hudson, who argues against using reproduction and fertility as a basis for opposing SSM:

“What we understand from our doctrine is that the telos of marriage is to ground every human family in real, lived, embodied gender equality.  And then, as a consequence, all reproduction would occur only within that context of gender equality.  If the ideal were lived, then every son and daughter of God would be born into a family that lived gender equality, and thus each would learn how to form such a relationship when they themselves came of age.  Reproduction is the fruit, not the root, of what God intended in establishing marriage.
That is why it doesn’t matter who’s fertile, and whether a marriage of infertile people is a marriage is beside the point.[ix]


Same-gender couples can reproduce.  To the extent their reproductive capacity is limited, it is no less limited than for inherently infertile opposite-gender couples.

[i] http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2010/01/playing-god-slippery-slopes-and-fallacy.html
[ii] Lyndsey Craven, Helen A. Tuppen, Gareth D. Greggains, Stephen J. Harbottle, Julie L. Murphy, Lynsey M. Cree, Alison P. Murdoch, Patrick F. Chinnery, Robert W. Taylor, Robert N. Lightowlers, Mary Herbert, & Douglass M. Turnbull, “Pronuclear transfer in human embryos to prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease,”  Nature, Vol. 464 No. 7291, April 15, 2010.  News release http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/04/mitochondria-engineering/
[iii] PZ Myers, "My mouse has two daddies," posted on December 11, 2010, http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/12/my_mouse_has_two_daddies.php  Study: Deng JM, Satoh K, Chang H, Zhang Z, Stewart MD, Wang H, Cooney AJ, Behringer RR (2010) Generation of viable male and female mice from two fathers. Biology of Reproduction DOI:10.1095/biolreprod.110.088831.
[iv] Roger McShane, “The Moderator’s Rebuttal Remarks,” 5 January 2011, http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/634.
[v] Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, 2004, pg. 112.
[vi] Alix Shulman, “Organs and Orgasms,” in Vivian gornick and Barbara K. moran, eds., Women in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness, (New York: Basic Books, 1971), pp. 198, 205.
[vii] Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, 2004, pg. 117.
[viii] Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, 2004, pg. 112.
[ix] Valerie Hudson, "The Men Have Muffed It: How Men's Misunderstanding of the Telos of Marriage Imperils Its Future," April 2009, “Additional Commentary on the Sherlock/Hertzberg/Hancock Debate,” SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall 2008), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2AddlCommentarySherlock.html


  1. Hi Brad! The Scenarios 1 - 4 are especially fascinating. Almost sci-fi to me. Cool though. You really go above and beyond even more than entire groups addressing these issues. And so sensitive and eloquent at the intersection of biological reality and individual gay personas who may be comfortably adjusted to gender norms. They sometimes want to dismiss being compared to the opposite sex. I however was o.k. in the play kitchen in kindergarden even with the girls looking at me strangely. It was great to meet you at affirmation. And thank you for making the book available. Steve

  2. Hi, I have to say thanks a lot for opening the thinking process surrounding procreation between gays. I never understood why I as a female, was extremely masculine and felt the need to father child. And from this wonderful article it definitely opens up gays like myself to have much better options to procreate eith our desired partners. The combining of eggs (before they are actually eggs) is inarguably procreation because both frmale partners contribute DNA to make offspring. Very well written.


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